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Facebook has tentatively friended us again, Australia says

  • Published at 04:53 am February 20th, 2021
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A 3D printed Facebook logo is seen in front of displayed Australia's flag in this illustration photo taken February 18, 2021 Reuters

The social media company is back at the negotiating table, says the prime minister

Facebook is back at the negotiating table, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Saturday after the tech giant this week blocked news on its site in the country.

Facebook's abrupt decision to stop Australians from sharing news on the site and strip the pages of domestic and foreign news outlets also erased several state government and emergency department accounts, causing widespread anger.

The company has "tentatively friended us again," Morrison told a news conference in Sydney. "What I'm pleased about it that Facebook is back at the table again."

Facebook has publicly indicated no change in its opposition to a proposed law requiring social media platforms to pay for links to news content. Morrison was not asked about that.

Australia's Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Friday he had spoken with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and further talks were expected over the weekend. It was not clear whether those talks have happened.

A Facebook spokeswoman and representatives for Frydenberg did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The stand-off comes as Australia's vows to press ahead with the landmark legislation, which could set a global precedent as countries like Canada express interest in taking similar action.

The Australian law, which would force Facebook and Alphabet Inc's Google to reach commercial deals with Australian publishers or face compulsory arbitration, has cleared the lower house of parliament and is expected to be passed by the Senate within the next week.

Simon Milner, Facebook’s Asia-Pacific policy director of policy for the Asia-Pacific region, was quoted on Saturday as telling the Sydney Morning Herald the company had three main objections to the legislation.

Facebook objects to being barred from discriminating between different news outlets that ask for money, to arbitration models that allow an independent body to select one payment over another, and to the obligation to enter commercial negotiations with Australian media companies, Milner said.

Facebook declined to make Milner available to speak with Reuters.

Australia's legislation is being widely watched overseas.

Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said on Thursday his country would adopt the Australian approach as it crafts its own legislation in coming months.

Google, which has initially threatened to close its search engine in Australia, has announced host of preemptive licensing deals over the past week, including a global agreement with News Corp.

Facebook's move had an immediate impact on traffic to Australian new sites, according to early data from New York-based analytics firm Chartbeat.

Total traffic to the Australian news sites from various platforms fell from the day before the ban by around 13% within the country.

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